Every year we designate one editorial on college admissions to be the best piece of the year. That distinction this year is an easy one and it belongs to Jay Mathews of “The Washington Post” for his recent piece entitled “Attack on AP by 8 D.C.-area private schools flunks the smell test.” Mr. Mathews has worked at “The Washington Post” for nearly 50 years, reporting on education issues with a sharp eye. In fact, he long ago created the highly respected annual Challenge Index to distinguish America’s most challenging high schools. But his reporting on how the attack by eight D.C.-area private schools on the AP curriculum flunks the smell test, well, couldn’t be more spot on.
Private Schools Dropping AP Curriculum Are No Examples
When private schools with longstanding track records (great college placements, great median SAT / ACT scores, etc.) and with deep relationships with highly selective colleges decide to drop the AP curriculum and announce these decisions to much fanfare in the press, it makes it seem like they’re little Davids challenging mighty Goliath. It’s not so. You see, highly selective colleges trust these schools — with or without the AP curriculum. But when they drop the AP curriculum and denounce it, they set the example to other schools with lesser track records and lesser relationships with highly selective colleges that the AP curriculum isn’t a necessary metric. But it is.
As Mathews writes, “The leaders of those schools wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post justifying the move. Why was it so tone-deaf and misleading? These are fine educators. They could have mentioned how much AP and programs such as International Baccalaureate and Cambridge have helped millions of students prepare for college. They could have said their teachers just wanted to try something different. Instead, they felt they had to defend their decision with this falsehood: ‘The truth is that college courses, which demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis, look nothing like AP courses, which stress breadth over depth.’ When I asked for evidence of that, they declined to provide it. AP courses and tests are not perfect but are designed to resemble college introductory courses, also not perfect.”
The Anti-AP Curriculum Movement Has Failed So Far
But it’s what Michael Grill, an AP government teacher at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia says in Mathews’ piece that really drives our point home. As he states, “When administrators can trade on the cachet of their school’s reputation to help get their students into college, it’s really not that bold nor courageous to abandon a metric that can contribute to leveling the playing field.” Amen, Mr. Grill! The man couldn’t be more on point. And Mathews couldn’t be more on point when he continues, “The seven private schools join an anti-AP movement that has not had much success so far. All of the schools involved in that movement educate fewer than one-half of 1 percent of U.S. high school students.”
So when new private schools try to sway parents to enroll their children by bragging about their fancy curriculums — and how they’ve eschewed the AP curriculum — your eyebrows should be raised. You should be on alert. New schools, no matter how fancy their proposed curriculums may be, do not have the cachet of these seven D.C.-area schools. They do not have the track records — the college placements, the testing results, and more. They do not have the deep, longstanding relationships with highly selective colleges. To use a word from the real estate world, these seven D.C.-area schools are not comps for a new private school.
Remember that old line?: “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” It applies to these new schools eschewing the AP curriculum because of schools like these seven D.C.-area schools. And it applies to the other schools attacking the AP curriculum, schools that educate fewer than one-half of 1% of U.S. high school students. These schools are making themselves out to be heroes but are actually setting a poor example for all. The AP curriculum isn’t perfect. We’ve been vocal about our criticisms of the AP World History curriculum of late. But it’s the best system we have and for these well-established private schools to attack the curriculum, well, as Jay Mathews says, it sure does flunk the smell test. Badly.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts on the attack on the AP curriculum by these D.C.-area schools by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!
You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of The Ivy Coach, Inc.